Waking up Homeless People to Count Them

Published on: 1/27/2014

This week, representatives from area shelters, social services agencies, congregations, police departments, housing coalitions, and veterans organzations will take to the streets, parks, abandoned buildings, and parking lots to find individuals who are homeless.  Their efforts are required as part of the Point-In-Time Homeless Count that will be happening in every community across the country.

Each year Point-In-Time Homeless Counts provide a snapshot of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations on a single night. Counts help communities understand the special needs of people who are chronically homeless, who experience mental illness and substance abuse, who are veterans, who are persons living with HIV/AIDS, who are victims of domestic violence, or are an unaccompanied child.

The most effective PIT Homeless Counts in communities include three components:

  • a street outreach survey;
  • a survey for people staying in emergency shelter, transitional housing, or permanent supportive housing units; and
  • a survey taken by homeless liasons in local schools to help identify the number of homeless students. 

The first 2014 street outreach survey will take place from sundown to sunup, starting around 8 p.m. on January 29 when it's predicted to be very cold.  Homelessness in Waukesha County can be invisible and seem non-existent, but the volunteers who are out on Wednesday night know that we have many individuals in our community who are without shelter and housing.  These individuals may sleep in their cars, waking up in the morning and going to their jobs that don't support the cost of housing.  They may sleep in stairwells of abandoned buildings, or have a campsite in areas that are not known to most of us.   The reasons for becoming homeless range from single issues such as losing a job that barely paid the rent to complex mental illness combined with the trauma of remembering active service in the military.  Yes, there are some chronically homeless individuals, but the majority of the people who will be awakened  on Wednesday night and asked questions so that their story is documented would prefer to have a warm place to sleep and a meaningful job to go to in the morning.  The volunteers doing the waking and counting in the freezing weather will bring their information back to organizations that provide services to continue their work and break the cycle of homelessness.